Catnip’s taxonomical name is Nepeta cataria. It’s also known as catmint. As you may have guessed from the name, catnip is a member of the mint family (it’s one of over 250 species in that family, in fact). The plant is native in Europe but has been successfully naturalized in Australia, America, and other places around the world. In fact, you’ve almost certainly driven by catnip at one point in your life: it’s a common roadside weed found along highways or in fields.
The plant grows to be up to 40 inches tall and is distinguished by its angular stems and soft, fuzzy, triangular-shaped leaves.
2) Researchers Don’t Know Why Cats Love Catnip
Catnip’s distinctive smell comes from an essential oil called nepetalactone. It’s the scent of this essential oil that has such a powerful effect on your cat.
Researchers don’t know for sure why cats love the smell of catnip, but they have a few ideas.
It’s most likely that the smell stimulates receptors in the brain that respond to your cat’s “happy” pheromones, causing your cat to enter a state of euphoria. Almost immediately, your cat begins to roll, rub, chew, and play with the catnip. Many cats also run around excitedly after smelling catnip.
3) Only About Half of Cats Respond to Catnip
You may think that all cats go crazy for catnip. However, it’s estimated that only about 40% to 50% of cats are significantly affected by catnip. It’s actually a genetic trait.
You may have also noticed that kittens don’t respond to catnip. Even in cats that have the genetic trait, they’ll only begin to exhibit symptoms once they’re 3 to 6 months old.
4) Catnip Produces a Mellow, Relaxing Effect When Ingested by Cats
Catnip is safe for your cats to ingest. In fact, your cat will love ingesting catnip: it produces a calming, mellowing effect on your cat. They’ll probably fall asleep for 10 to 20 minutes. Once they wake up, they’ll act like nothing happened and be back to normal. It will take a couple hours before they become sensitive to catnip again.
5) It Affects All Cats – Even Wild Ones
It’s not just domestic cats that are affected by catnip! Even large cats – like lions, tigers, cougars, and other wild cats – will react to catnip.
The next time you’re adventuring through the wilderness or an African jungle, consider bringing a sprig of catnip with you. It could save your life.
6) You and your Cat Can Enjoy Catnip Together
Catnip has a particularly strong effect on cats, but it can also affect humans. In fact, catnip has been grown and brewed in teas for centuries specifically for human usage. It has calming properties similar to chamomile.
Some people also use catnip to repel flies, mosquitoes, cockroaches, and termites. Some sources online claim its 10 times more repellant than DEET!
In any case, consider planting catnip in your garden to make you – and your cat – happy.